A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola[i] (Exercises) to discern God’s will and live faith in action on behalf of all God’s people. When appropriately adapted they offer a way for all people of good will to do the same.
The Kingdom of Christ is a two-part exercise that serves as a bridge from the First to the Second Week of the Exercises.[ii] The first scene describes the call of an earthly king who invites his subjects to consider joining him in a noble undertaking on behalf of humankind. The Christ we encounter in the second scene is none other than the Jesus of history who first labored, suffered and died on behalf of the kingdom of God before being raised from the dead to live in the fulness of God’s love for all eternity.
Ignatius’ intent in offering the first scene is to increase our awareness of the need for generosity in order to participate in a mission that is greater than ourselves.
The Call of an Earthly King
It is my will to conquer all the lands of the infidel. Therefore, whoever wishes to join me in this enterprise must be content with the same food, drink, clothing, etc., as mine. So, too, they must work with me by day, and watch with me by night, etc., so that as they have had a share in the toil with me, afterwards, they may share in the victory with me.[iii]
There is no historical grounding to this scene. Neither the identity of the king nor the details of his mission are offered. Instead, Ignatius focuses on the king’s exceptional character. He is willing to sacrifice all that he has for the good of his people, and he asks the same of those who would follow him. His invitation reaches out to all regardless of their ability or preparedness for the task at hand. Moreover, in a spirit of complete honesty, he makes clear there will be hardship before there is victory and rejoicing.
As we ponder the invitation before us, Ignatius asks us to consider what the response of a good subject ought to be to a king who is so generous and noble. In fact, he says that anyone who would refuse the king’s invitation would justifiably deserve to be condemned by the whole world as an ignoble servant.[iv]
The second scene follows immediately upon the conclusion of the first. Here, Ignatius replaces the noble king with the risen Christ who asks us to consider following him in the unfinished work of the kingdom of God.
The Call of Christ the King
It is my will to conquer the whole world and all my enemies, and thus to enter into the glory of my Father. Therefore, whoever wishes to join me in this enterprise must be willing to labor with me, that by following me in suffering, they may follow me in glory.[v]
To respond to Jesus’ call will place us in the midst of the ongoing struggle in history between Jesus and his mission on behalf of the kingdom of God, and the forces of evil that seek to undermine him and his work. It will first lead to suffering before ultimately resting in the fullness of God’s glory. As we ponder Jesus’ invitation, Ignatius suggests we ask for the grace not to be deaf to Jesus’ call, but eager and ready to do God’s will.[vi]
The stakes of discipleship with Jesus are high. To follow him is to take seriously the gospel stories about his unwavering dedication to God’s will and service to God’s people. Consequently, our commitment will not only be personal, but also social. Jesus will lead us beyond ourselves to participate in God’s ongoing plan for the creation and salvation of this world. Recognizing this reality neither undermines our personal relationship with God, nor our individual quest for salvation. In truth, it is from our commitment to God’s larger plan for the salvation of all of creation that our personal salvation is realized.
Ignatius believed that all people of good will, adequate reason and sound judgment would willingly respond to the Call of Christ the King.[vii] However, he added an even deeper expression of commitment for those who felt called to still greater identification with the Jesus of history who is the Christ of faith.
Those who wish to give greater proof of their love, and to distinguish themselves in whatever concerns the service of the eternal King and Lord of all, will not only offer themselves entirely for the work, but will act against their sensuality and carnal and worldly love, and make offerings of greater value and of more importance in words such as these:
Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of your infinite goodness, and of your glorious mother, and of all the saints of your heavenly court, this is the offering which I make with your favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only that it is for your greater service and praise, to imitate you in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should your most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life.[viii]
Gilles Cusson, SJ, in his book Biblical Theology and the Spiritual Exercises: A Method Toward a Personal Experience of God As Accomplishing Within Us His Plan of Salvation, explains this seeming stratification of discipleship with Jesus as an initial commitment to the work of the kingdom of God followed by a deeper commitment of union with Jesus in that same work[ix], while Michael Ivens, SJ, in his book, Understanding the Spiritual Exercises, similarly explains it as commitment to Jesus’ mission, followed by a deepened sense of love and identification with him.[x]
However, Jon Sobrino, in his book, “The Christ of the Ignatian Exercises,” takes this seeming stratification of discipleship more literally and cautions that today the following of Jesus should not be separated into one for the many who will keep God’s commandments based upon “judgment and reason,” and one for the few who wish “to distinguish themselves in whatever concerns the service of the eternal King and Lord of all.” Rather, all people ought to experience Jesus’ call as a singular invitation to follow him in their chosen state of life in a mission to make more present the kingdom of God in our time.[xi] This commentary is consistent with the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Church that says, “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love.”[xii]
The Call of Christ the King represents a significant moment in the Exercises. Retrospectively, it recalls the Principle and Foundation, an economic and ordered vision of reality, that is now realized in the presence of the Call of Christ the King. Prospectively, it offers a prelude to the meditation on the Two Standards that will ask for a definitive commitment to discipleship with Jesus.[xiii]
So important is the Call of Christ the King to a successful experience of the Exercises that Ignatius asks that we repeat it once before entering the Second Week. Let us reflect upon the life-changing transformation that the call to follow Jesus in our world today will have upon us. Moreover, let us pray for the courage to respond in the affirmative to that call.
[i] The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are a series of Christian contemplations and meditations written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th‑century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of approximately 30 days. They were composed to help participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God and commit to following Jesus in this world whatever the cost. When appropriately adapted, they can also help people of other faith traditions discern God’s will and engage problems facing society in the 21st century.[ii] L.J. Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Sections 91-98.
[iii] Ibid, Sections 93.
[iv] Ibid, Section 94.
[v] Ibid, Section 95.
[vi] Ibid, Section 91.
[vii] Ibid, Section 96.
[viii] Ibid, Sections 97-98.
[ix] Gilles Cusson, SJ, Biblical Theology and the Spiritual Exercises: A Method Toward a Personal Experience of God As Accomplishing Within Us His Plan of Salvation (St. Louis: The Institute of Biblical Sources, 1994), 204;
[x] Michael Ivens, SJ, Understanding the Spiritual Exercises (Herefordshire: Gracewing, 1998), 84.
[xi] Jon Sobrino, “The Christ of the Ignatian Exercises,” Christology at the Crossroads (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985), 398
[xii] Documents of Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, par. 40.
[xiii] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Sections 136-47.